Cheshire Cat

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The Cheshire Cat is a fictional cat popularised by Lewis Carroll's depiction of it in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Known for his distinctive mischievous grin, the Cheshire Cat has had a notable impact on popular culture.

Contents

Origins

The phrase appears in print in John Wolcot's pseudonymous Peter Pindar's Pair of Lyric Epistles in 1792: "Lo, like a Cheshire cat our court will grin." Earlier than that, A classical dictionary of the vulgar tongue by Francis Grose (The Second Edition, Corrected and Enlarged, London 1788) contains the following entry: "CHESHIRE CAT. He grins like a Cheshire cat; said of any one who shows his teeth and gums in laughing."

One of the stories of the possible origins of the grinning "Cheshire cat" is based on a Cheshire sign painter's peculiar way of drawing the lion crest of the Grosvenor family of Concord, Massachusetts on inn and pub signs, which looked to the general populace like a grinning cat, rather than the noble beast it was supposed to be.[1] However, this would not account for the phrase's appearing in English eighteenth-century reference books such as Grose's dictionary.

Cheese moulds

Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable says grinning like a Cheshire cat is "an old simile, popularised by Lewis Carroll". Brewer adds, "The phrase has never been satisfactorily accounted for, but it has been said that cheese was formerly sold in Cheshire moulded like a cat that looked as though it was grinning".[2] The cheese was cut from the tail end, so that the last part eaten was the head of the smiling cat.[citation needed]

Church carvings

There are many reports that Carroll found inspiration for the name and expression of the Cheshire Cat in the 16th century sandstone carving of a grinning cat, on the west face of St Wilfrid's Church tower in Grappenhall, a village adjacent to his birthplace- Daresbury in Warrington, Cheshire. Others[who?] have attributed it to a gargoyle found on a pillar in St Nicolas Church, Cranleigh, where Carroll used to travel frequently when he lived in Guildford (though this is doubtful as he moved to Guildford some three years after Alice's Adventures in Wonderland had been published) and a carving in a church in the village of Croft-on-Tees, in the north east of England, where his father had been rector. St Christopher's church in Pott Shrigley, Cheshire, is believed to have been visited by Carroll and has the closest stone carving resemblance to the pictorial cat in the book.

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